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First Intel-based Sun Fire servers come in a small package

Sun Microsystems' latest foray into Intel-based servers, the Sun Fire X4150 and X4450, promises density and performance.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun Microsystems Inc. introduced its first x64 (x86, 64-bit) Intel Xeon quad-core processor based systems this week, including the world's smallest four-socket x64 server, packing up to twice the compute power of other servers at half the size.

For more on Sun Microsystems:
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Sun x86 servers to include Intel chips

The Intel Xeon quad-core processor-powered Sun Fire X4450 and Sun Fire X4150 servers offer higher performance, density, and better power efficiency than competitive systems on the market, Sun reports. Both servers can run the Solaris Operating System, Microsoft Windows, Linux or VMware, for running a broad range of applications.

Powered by the Intel Xeon quad-core processor 7300 series, the Sun Fire X4450 server is the only four-socket quad-core system in a 2U form factor on the market from a tier-one vendor, the company claimed. Sun asserted that the Sun Fire X4450 is the best four-socket x64 server in terms of performance, density and power efficiency. The depth of the 2U is 28.88 inches. It is 17.55 inches wide and 3.46 inches high.

John Fowler, executive vice president of Sun Microsystems' Network Systems Group asserted in a news release that the quad-core servers "offer world-class performance, unmatched density and expandability, and an energy-efficient design that is much more advanced than anything from our competitors."

To believe or not believe the hype?
But are Sun's x86 servers really more advanced than the competition?

Gordon Haff, analyst at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc. said that because customers have made it clear that there they're willing to pay only so much for servers in the x86 space, vendors are fairly restricted about the number and kind of bells and whistles they can add without diminishing returns.

Servers in this class have far more similarities than differences, so terms like 'unmatched' make good ad copy but are hard to justify across the board.
Gordon Haff,
analystIlluminata Inc.

"Servers in this class have far more similarities than differences, so terms like 'unmatched' make good ad copy but are hard to justify across the board," Haff said.

That said, Haff does think Sun's servers are above par. "Sun's new 2U four-socket server does deliver some impressive performance density. Beyond that, the Galaxy lineup is a nicely engineered collection of servers," Haff said.

Analyst Joe Clabby of Clabby Analytics was impressed by the new offering, saying he can believe the big performance promises in this case because "Sun does know how to build a good server."

On the two-socket side, the Sun Fire X4150 server compares nicely with competitors' two-socket 1U servers, Sun claims. The X4150 is powered by the Intel Xeon quad-core processor 5300 series, has up to twice the memory capacity, over 1 terabyte of internal disk storage and better networking connectivity, Its form factor is 28 inches deep, 16.75 inches wide and 1.73 inches in height.

Earlier this year, Sun agreed to offer Intel-based servers and has since produced the Sun Blade 6000 modular system and the Sun Fire servers announced here.

In an afternoon webcast, Fowler said that despite past disagreements, Sun and Intel now share a common view.

"The collaboration with Intel is a big change for us. In the commodity market, the engineering challenges of power and performance are significant. We will continue to work together and you will see more products from this collaboration," Fowler said.

Fowler refused to say whether these servers will be available with AMD Opteron quad-core processors.

Sun has enjoyed seven straight quarters of growth in x86 server revenue; last month it broke into the top five in x86 server revenue with 51% year-over-year revenue growth -- the highest among the top five vendors in the worldwide x86 server market, according to the August IDC Worldwide Quarterly Server Tracker.

Early adopters such as Eastern Michigan University and the Technical University of Munich have already begun to test and implement the Sun Fire X4450 and Sun Fire X4150 servers in their data centers. Test results were not given at press time.

The Sun Fire X4150 server is available now, with entry-level pricing starting at $2,995. The Sun Fire X4450 is due to be available in October, with entry-level pricing starting at $8,895.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

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